The Utility of Modified Course Methodologies in the Classroom
By Jonathan D. Olson
Robert is an autistic student in 12th grade. He is enrolled in a woodworking course and has a para-educator work directly with him. Assessing Robert’s level of understanding is difficult as much of the course information, that is communicated verbally, must be repeated by his para-educator multiple times and it is difficult for Robert to follow written directions. Due to the complex nature of the course content and requirements, it would be difficult for Robert to find success utilizing the traditional course delivery approach.
In many school districts across the U.S., classroom instruction is delivered utilizing traditional means of content delivery: lecture based auditory classroom instruction sometimes intermixed with kinesthetic type activities. This approach has a built-in unwritten “permission to forget” cycle (Jenkins, 2013) attached to it. The cycle begins on the first day of the week with an introduction of concepts that students are expected to cram, ending with a test meant to be a period to “spit out” crammed concepts on the last day of the week all so students then forget what is taught over the weekend. The cycle begins again on the succeeding Monday and so goes the unbroken cycle of this ineffective classroom instructional delivery. For students such as Robert, these classrooms become less accessible as they turn into a continuous cycle of cramming, regurgitating, and forgetting. Oftentimes, teachers hope and pray that students not only learn and retain the information but are ready to regurgitate it when taking the standardized test at the end of the academic year. A better approach to classroom instructional delivery exists- the flipped instructional delivery methodologies. With this course delivery approach, students such as Robert are exposed to a modified flipped classroom methodology and work in teams to achieve daily goals set for course projects. In the process, students learn course content and pick up valuable life skills. Beyond basic skill development, the process in the flipped classroom methodology helps students to develop the employability skills that are critical for successful engagement in the post school world of work such as
- social skills
- critical thinking
- decision making
- problem solving skills
Robert’s challenges are not that much different to millions of general education and special education students that are struggling to find success in the classroom and beyond. Robert must overcome challenges in order to find success in school and in the world of work. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder no doubt complicates Robert’s ability to thrive in the classroom. It is difficult for Robert to develop the knowledge and skills that will help him become successful in a workplace setting without changing existing classroom instructional delivery methods.
Using video technology, the focus of the modified flipped instructional framework is on training students to transition from being dependent on the instructor to being independent and self-sufficient with regards to concepts learned and the application of the skills learned. The use of video technologies is a viable means for disseminating course content and is widely well-received by students (Giannakos, Chorianopoulos, & Chrisochoides, 2015). Current research on flipped classroom methodologies (such as video tutorials) found that, when developed correctly, there can be tremendous advantages to student success as well as specific skill development and students’ learning achievement (Schmidt, & Ralph, 2016; Zainuddin & Halili, 2016).
A Pilot Project
To address the challenges of information acquisition, application of knowledge, and skill development facing students such as Robert in the traditional classroom, a suburban southeastern Nebraska school district has been piloting a modified carpentry class project using flipped classroom methodologies under the leadership of Dr. Jonathan D. Olson, the developer. In the traditional carpentry course, students are expected to build furniture as part of a class project through direct instruction and demonstrations. In this pilot course, students watch a 1-3 minute video clip detailing the carpentry process. (One project example, adapted for public use, can be found at: http://www.mwwoodwork.com/coffee-table-project.html). In the process, students learn and acquire needed information and procedures by viewing the prepared video tutorials. The pilot video project involves 50 steps, each professionally filmed and edited to become short video tutorials. The focus is to create instructional content where both video and audio content is exceptionally clear, reducing confusion during the process of learning. Using this concept, students in the course are able to review each step as often as necessary without time constraints. Students had access to the course content at school, home, even on cell phones during class. Having this unlimited access to learn the project leveled the playing field for students that need to hear and see concepts and content multiple times before they ‘stick’.
After piloting this method for two quarters we found that this method has allowed students to more fully understand the process for breaking up large complex projects into small attainable steps. Ultimately many of the higher need students had fewer questions and were more prepared to work independently throughout the entire project. Using this approach, meant the acquisition of the knowledge necessary to be skillful at this chosen trade of carpentry does not have to be out of reach for Robert and others, especially those with challenges that accompany disabilities.
These video segments were professionally produced, increasing the clarity of the content and reducing potential for confusion during each viewing period. By utilizing this modified flipped instructional approach in our school district, analysis of student data showed
- an increase in successful completion of course objectives
- an increase in the ability to develop the skills taught in the classroom through obtaining course content at their own individual pace
- students were able to complete assigned tasks within expected timeframes.
The carpentry skills gained are transferable to any entry-level position in a cabinet shop or on a construction site. And, in the end, the employability skills gained (i.e. collaboration, communication, leadership, social skills, teamwork, critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving skills) are transferable to most all career fields.
Accessibility and Success
Currently, five of the top ten high wage, high skill, and high demand jobs in Nebraska (h3.ne.gov) fall in the area of Skilled and Technical Sciences -- a career field Robert has chosen and could find success in if the classroom becomes accessible. This statistic is not limited to the State of Nebraska but similar statistics exist in many other states around the U.S. The use of the flipped instructional methodologies could help increase the number of students entering the Skilled and Technical Sciences trade by making course content accessible to a larger number of students. The key is to expand the use of the instructional strategy beyond the reach of a few classrooms by involving other school professionals. Curriculum developers working in concert with school counselors, teachers, and others, means important players are invested in making the classroom instruction accessible to all students. School counselors, in particular with their special training and understanding of employability skills can be part of this collaborative team, lending their expertise in curriculum development to make high skill, high wage and high demand jobs accessible to all students and not just a handful of lucky ones.
Giannakos, M. N., Chorianopoulos, K., & Chrisochoides, N. (2015). Making sense of video analytics: Lessons learned from clickstream interactions, attitudes, and learning outcome in a video-assisted course. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 16, 260-283.
H3. (2015). High Wage, High Demand, High Skill. Retrieved from http://h3.ne.gov
Jenkins, L. (2013). Permission to forget. The Journal for Quality and Participation,36, 21-26.
Schmidt, S. M., P., & Ralph, D. L. (2016). The flipped classroom: A twist on teaching. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (Online), 9, 1-6.
Zainuddin, Z., & Halili, S. H. (2016). Flipped classroom research and trends from different fields of study. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 17, 314-340.
Dr. Jonathan D. Olson, is an Online Content Development Specialist, Axletree Studios-Educational Content Development Services. He is in his 11th year as a Career and Technical Education Instructor in a suburban southeastern Nebraska high school setting. He holds a Bachelor's of Science in Education and Human Sciences degree specializing in Industrial Technology Education 6-12, a Master's degree in Educational Curriculum and Development, a second Master's degree in Educational Administration, and a Doctorate of Education degree specializing in Educational Technology and E-Learning. Dr. Olson currently serves as Department Head for the Skilled and Technical Sciences program and plays an active role facilitating the integration of College and Career readiness skills across district curriculum. He can be reached at email@example.com.